Lent Devotions 2010: Friday 2 April

“But deliver us from evil.”  Lord’s Prayer, Seventh Petition

What a four-word summary of what Good Friday is all about!  It is from the cross that Jesus delivers us from our evil foes, sin, death, and the devil.  But how did this happen? 

It happened because Jesus was NOT delivered from evil.  In the Garden of Gethsemane He fervently prayed that God would remove the cup of wrath from Him, but He concluded “not My will but yours be done.  And God’s will was that Jesus would face all the evil forces head-on in a cosmic collision. 

On Good Friday, some 2000 years ago, Satan and all of his evil forces threw everything they had at Jesus.  Our sin was placed upon Him, the Father forsook Him because of my sin (and yours), and Jesus underwent the torment of hell in our place.  His abandonment and agony were real, because evil is real and nasty.

 But when Jesus cried out “It is finished, the death knell for evil had been sounded.  Sin had been atoned for; death had been swallowed up; and Satan had been crushed. 

It is the wonderful truth that evil has been defeated by Jesus Christ that enables us to pray this petition of the Lord’s Prayer.  Sin, death, and the devil are no longer our masters: Jesus is, and because He has conquered them, we who are in Him have conquered them too.  Evil is still all around us; it is real and painful, but it is defeated by Christ. 

O Virgin’s Son,
What Thou hast won
Is far beyond all telling,
How our God, detested, died,
Hell and devil felling. 
Amen

(LSB 448 v. 6)

Lent Devotions 2010: Thursday 1 April

“Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her; that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that He might present the church to Himself in splendour, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.”  Ephesians 5:25-7

What can look more beautiful than a bride on her wedding day?  Of all the beautiful sights and sounds on earth, the marriage service in church is hard to beat . We are there reminded of the nature of Christian marriage and we witness the joy of the highest human love.

This picture of the bride in white points us to the illustration used by Paul.  Christ will have a bride which is pure and holy, a radiant church clothed in splendour.  This is the vision of St. John in Revelation 21,”I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.”

The church on earth by comparison appears in rags and tatters, stained and ugly, despised and persecuted; but the day is surely coming when she will be seen as the radiant bride of Christ, free from stain, spots, wrinkles and blemishes, beautiful and glorious.  This transformation is achieved by the Lord Jesus Christ, the heavenly Bridegroom, the Head of the church.

There are five things which He does for the church: firstly He loves with deep everlasting, covenant love, agape love; secondly He sacrifices Himself, and during this season of Lent as we look upon the suffering and death of our Saviour, may we wonder afresh at this highest form of love, to give us life He sacrificed His own.  Through this sacrifice Christ cleanses the church from sin, He did everything necessary to gain our salvation;  He sanctifies the church, makes her holy, and finally presents her to Himself, perfect.

Paul is telling us to shape our marriages on the heavenly pattern, that of the relationship between Christ and the church.  The word “as” is important and demanding.  The Christian husband is to love with the agape love that we may receive from the heavenly Bridegroom.  He is to sacrifice himself for his wife and be prepared even to die for her.

His aim is that his love may beautify his wife, particularly in developing her Christian character and growth, so that she may develop her full potential in Christ and be part of that glorious body of the Bride of Christ.  This love is binding and deep.  Its quality is self-sacrifice.  Its purpose is the growth of the loved one . This love can only be effected by Christ Himself in the life of the believer through the indwelling Holy Spirit.

Heavenly Father, we pray that You will help us in our relationships on earth to love as Christ as loved us, and to lay down our lives in the service of others.  We thank You for the wonderful, sacrificial love of our Saviour, and we pray that we will keep our eyes fixed on Him so that we will be part of the heavenly Bride.  Through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.

Lent Devotions 2010: Wednesday 31 March

“For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.”  I Corinthians 1:18

This verse sounds contradictory, doesn’t it?  We are taught to believe that that Christ’s message of love and salvation and forgiveness should be given to all.  And so it is – freely.  God does not say, “Fred Smith can have his sins forgiven, but Joe Bloggs cannot.”  Joe Bloggs may choose to ignore Christ our Lord, but Christ won’t ignore Mr Bloggs.  He is there for the worst unbeliever who may come to know God.  If you do not believe in God, then to those the words of the Bible, the deeds of the Cross are indeed just a folly, a story.  They will perish, and this will be their end.  For those who believe in our Risen Lord, we too will perish – everyone does – but this will be our beginning.

We pray for all those who have heard, yet not accepted or understood Your Word that one day they too will come to Christ and become Your disciples and that those who already follow You reach out to tell the wonderful story of the Cross to others in darkness.  Amen.

Lent Devotions 2010: Tuesday 30 March

“He was taken from prison and from judgement;
and who shall declare His generation?
For He was cut off from the land of the living;
for the transgression of My people He was stricken.”  Isaiah 53:8

The piece that strikes me in this verse is “for the transgression of My people He was stricken”.  The very transgression of putting the Messiah to death would be placed on the Messiah as well!  Why was He stricken for their transgression?  That those who believe in Him may have life everlasting.   Through the grace of God they could receive the free gift of salvation, through the very one they put to death.  As Christ hung on the cross He said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do.” (Luke23:34)  What a saviour we have in Christ!  Willing even to forgive those who were putting Him to death!  And this is still true today.  Salvation through grace is still open to all who are led to Christ.  He was stricken for all transgressions – no matter how terrible – so that all who confess Him as Lord will be saved.  In Christ is the law fulfilled, the pure, spotless lamb sacrificed once for all sin, the atonement that removes the price of sin.

Lord God: I confessed my sin to You, and my iniquity I have not hidden.  I said, I will confess my transgression to Jehovah; and You forgave the iniquity of my sin. Selah.  For this let every godly one pray to You, in a time when You may be found; surely in the floods of great waters they shall not come near him.  In the name of Jesus Christ we pray this.  Amen.

Lent Devotions 2010: Monday 29 March

“Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears My word and believes Him who sent Me has eternal life.  He does not come into judgement, but has passed from death to life.”   John 5:24

During my lifetime here on earth, I have come to face many trials and tribulations.  But I pray and believe that my Lord and Saviour has answered my prayers.  There have been a few deaths in my family, and I now look forward to getting on with the remaining years of my life – where I will be joined with my dear departed loved ones, to be united with them in heaven.  I quote from one of my favourite hymns:

 Love divine, all loves excelling
Joy of heaven, to earth come down!
Fix in us Thy humble dwelling,
All Thy faithful mercies crown.
Jesus, Thou are all compassion,
Pure, unbounded love Thou art;
Visit us with Thy salvation,
Enter every trembling heart. 

Finish then Thy new creation,
Pure and spotless let us be;
Let us see Thy great salvation
Perfectly restored in Thee,
Changed from glory into glory,
Till in heaven we take our place
Till we cast our crowns before Thee,
Lost in wonder, love and praise!

 (LSB 700)

Gracious heavenly Father, I know I have sinned in thought, words and deeds, but I believe and trust that You have forgiven me.  In Jesus’ name I pray, Amen. 

Lent Devotions 2010: Saturday 27 March

“Have mercy on me, O God,
according to Your steadfast love;
according to Your abundant mercy
blot out my transgressions.
Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity,
and cleanse me from my sin!”  Psalm 51:1-2

King David, the writer of this Psalm, appeals to God’s mercy.  There is such a contrast, a real gulf, between God’s steadfast love and abundant mercy and David’s transgressions, iniquity and sin.  God hates sin, but at the same time He is compassionate and merciful, “He loves righteousness and justice; the earth is full of the steadfast love of the LORD.” (Psalm 33.5Psalm 116.5 sums up God’s nature in these words, “Gracious and righteous is the LORD, full of compassion is our God.”  Psalm 51 is in the Bible because it is applicable to us all.  The title indicates that this Psalm relates to David’s penitence after Nathan the prophet confronted him about Bathsheba.  The details are in 1 Samuel chapters 11-12.  David thought he had got away with adultery and murder.  But God saw.      God knew.  God sent His messenger, Nathan the prophet.  Via the parable of the lamb, David condemned himself with his own words, “The man who has done this deserves to die.”  Nathan said to David, “You are the man!” (12.6-7) 

We may not be adulterers or murderers, but Jesus teaches that there is a higher standard in the Kingdom of God . Lust is as serious as adultery, “Everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” (Matthew 5.28)  Anger is as serious as murder (Matthew 5.21-22).  Jesus perceived that the breaking of the commandments starts in the mind: adultery starts with lust and murder starts with anger.  These sins of the mind are not public, but God sees; God knows!  We try to excuse ourselves.  We may say, “I was only appreciating the beautiful form of natural beauty – that is not lust.”  Maybe.  Maybe not!  Likewise with anger – we may be seething in our hearts, but not disclose our inner thoughts, even by an expression on our faces, but God sees; God knows!  God’s standard is perfection, “You must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5.48

Psalm 51 inspired one of the most beautiful pieces of Church music – indeed of all music – “Allegri’s Miserere”.  With its soaring, ethereal treble notes it is exquisitely beautiful.  So much so that the music was a closely guarded secret by the Vatican, until Mozart went to the Sistine Chapel and heard the Miserere.  Later Mozart wrote down every single note from memory. (For the details, see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Miserere_(Allegri) )

But the purpose of the music and the purpose of the poetry is not to provoke us to say, “How beautiful!”  Its purpose is to provoke sincere repentance.  The Anglican Book of Common Prayer in the confession of the Lord’s Supper says “We acknowledge and bewail our manifold sins and wickedness.”  There is a feeling today that this is overstated, but just look at the weak state of the church generally in our society!  David could only hope for God’s mercy, but we have assurance that if we are truly penitent, God will forgive us, because of what His Son Jesus did for us on the cross at Calvary.

Thank You for that mercy and forgiveness, O Lord!  Amen. 

Lent Devotions 2010: Friday 26 March

“And lead us not into temptation.”  Lord’s Prayer, Sixth Petition

Since he first tempted Adam and Eve to doubt God’s word, saying “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden?’” (Gen 3:1b), the devil has continued to tempt man to doubt.  We are assailed daily with the temptations of the devil, who tries to get us to doubt the promises of God . Even while we confess with our mouths that we believe in God and His saving grace, we continue to doubt in our hearts.  Why else do we so easily fall into despair when things don’t go the way we want them to?  We know that God “works all things for good” (Rom 8:28) and yet we feel lost and forsaken.  Even though we know that Jesus took all of our sins on Himself when He suffered and died, the devil tempts us to take those sins back and to doubt God’s forgiveness.

But we are not alone in being tempted.  Our heavenly Father, who gives all good gifts, even allowed His Son to be tempted by Satan in the wilderness.  The devil tried to tempt Jesus to put physical comforts ahead of the Word of God and to seek worldly glory instead of worshipping God (Matt 4:1-11).  But Jesus did not succumb to the devil.  The perfect Son of God, true God and true man, fulfilled the law on our behalf.  He was “obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Php 2:8).

In this petition we pray that God would help us to follow Jesus’ example and not succumb to temptations of the devil, the world and our sinful flesh.  Especially we pray that God would keep us in the one true, saving faith, holding fast to His promise of forgiveness, life and salvation.

 Dear heavenly Father, You did not spare Your only Son, sending Him to earth to take on the form of a man, to be tempted by the devil and to suffer and die for us.  Help us to resist the temptation to doubt Your word and promises, for You are faithful and will raise us on the last day to eternal life with You. Amen.

Lent Devotions 2010: Thursday 25 March

“Therefore He had to be made like His brothers in every respect, so that He might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people.  For because He Himself has suffered when tempted, He is able to help those who are being tempted.”  Hebrews 2:17-18.

IN OUR SHOES

Jesus knows what it is like to be in our shoes.  He suffered and was tempted like us.  He knew in the flesh how harmful sin is, and He knows that we can’t give up sinning.  Sin is like an addiction.  We know that sin is bad and that God doesn’t like it but we sin because it makes us feel good momentarily.  However, when we see the effects of our sins in the mess they cause, we feel like we need more of the same to get us going.

We live in a vicious, self centred circle and can’t get out of it.  However, that doesn’t make us less guilty and in God’s records our list of convictions is endless.  For our sake, Jesus became one of us in every respect apart from sinning.  Unlike us, Jesus lived without sin and did the will of God by dying on the cross to pay for our release.  He called us brothers so that the Father might call us His children, and even now Jesus continues to intercede for us so that our heavenly Father may keep us from evil.

Our Father, lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil. Amen.

Lent Devotions 2010: Wednesday 24 March

“… and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility.”  Ephesians 2:16

In the surrounding verses Paul is addressing the division between Jewish and Gentile Christians in Ephesus.  When we think of conflict between Jews and Gentiles in the Bible some obvious examples spring to mind: David and Goliath, Moses and Pharaoh, Elijah and the prophets of Baal. Israel had a history of hostility with her neighbours that stretched back centuries before the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  Paul teaches that Jesus has reconciled these differences through His death on the cross.  This wasn’t just a let’s-stay-out-of-each-other’s-hair reconciliation either.  Paul says that the two are made one body, a new man, members of the same household.  It’s no wonder then that both Jewish and Gentile Christians of the time struggle with the idea.

Sometimes our families are a lot like this uneasy household of Jews and Gentiles.  We may seem to coexist peacefully.  However, old wounds, long histories of tension, and child-induced sleep deprivation all foster division.  We become strangers and aliens to one another.  The root of our problem is the same as that of both the Jews and the Gentiles of Biblical times.  It’s not so much that we’re at odds with one another, as that we are at odds with God.  Sin and its consequences make us strangers to God and His promises.  We are as hostile to Him as any Gentile baddy of the Old Testament.  This broken relationship with our heavenly Father naturally leads to broken relationships in our lives.  We see this effect between the Jews and Gentiles whom Paul addressed and within our own families today.

Still, here’s Paul preaching peace and reconciliation for believers through Christ’s death on the cross.  This is not peace of convenience, dependent on good behaviour and lack of provocation between the two parties.  Rather, it is a performative peace.  Christ has reconciled both parties to His Father, has forgiven their sins and has made them one spiritual body.  Therefore, in God’s eyes there is no longer any division within the household of His saints, and their lives begin to reflect that reality.

The same is true in our own homes.  Christ’s death and resurrection reconcile each of us with our heavenly Father.  He has killed the hostility between us and God, opening our lives and our homes to His message of peace.

Lord, by the life, death and resurrection of Your Son, Jesus Christ forgive our sins and reconcile us to You and to one another.  Bring peace to our churches and our families through the sure gifts of Your Word and sacraments. Amen

Lent Devotions 2010: Tuesday 23 March


Arise, shine, for your light has come,
and the glory of the LORD has risen upon you.
For behold, darkness shall cover the earth,
and thick darkness the peoples;
but the LORD will arise upon you,
and His glory will be seen upon you.”  Isaiah 60:1-2

The Word of God as written by the Prophet Isaiah concerning the future glory of Israel.

The days of Lent are just  plain gloomy.  Most days during this  time of year the sky remains overcast.  One can compare the gloomy dark sky with  the spiritual darkness, the sinfulness that covers the earth.  Spiritually speaking we live in the  darkness of our sin.

But we saints, those who confess Jesus is Lord, look  forward to leaving the darkness of the world.  We look forward to passing through death’s dark door into the eternal light of God’s presence.  We look forward to our own  resurrection.  We look forward to life everlasting in Heaven where it will never be dark.  For now, we bathe in the light of God’s Word.  For now, we find warmth and  comfort in the Sacraments.  For now, we live with the assurance that our Saviour, Jesus, remains with us always.  The glory of the Lord shines around  us.  God’s Word is a lamp unto our  feet.  We need not fear the darkness.  The World may dwell in darkness but we Christians thrive in the light of our Saviour Jesus.  As we traverse the dark days of Lent let  us ever focus on the glorious day of Easter.

We praise You, Lord, that the true Light is already shining and that it will never be extinguished.  Amen.